King Kaufman's Sports Daily

ESPN's basketball guys hammer the BCS. Now that it's not an ABC property, that is. Plus: Hoops whizzing match!

Salon Staff
November 30, 2006 10:00PM (UTC)

Really, really interesting to hear ESPN's college basketball guys ripping on college football two nights in a row. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that ABC no longer has the excloo on the Bowl Championship Series, could it?

Tuesday night the studio crew, especially Jay Bilas, made a few snarky little comments about the BCS method of crowning a champion during halftime of the Indiana-Duke game. On Wednesday, Dick Vitale -- college basketball's most prominent cheerleader -- and his play-by-play partner Dan Shulman let the BCS have it with both barrels near the end of North Carolina's exciting win over Ohio State.


"I want to tell them why college basketball is head and shoulders above college football," Vitale said, referring to his friends, ESPN college football analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Spielman. "Because in college basketball, the little guy, the little team, has a chance against the Goliath.

"The Davids, the Oral Roberts, the programs like Gonzaga, they have a chance. You have no chance in football for a mid-major to go up and beat Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Southern Cal in football."

"Right," Shulman chimed in.

"Case closed," Vitale continued, "college basketball gets the honors."

"And the other reason," Shulman said, "and I know you feel this one just as strongly, and it applies to Ohio State here tonight: Even if they lose tonight, it does not cripple their hopes to win a national championship."

"Exactly!" Vitale agreed. "After the first two weeks of college football, 90 percent of the schools are eliminated from chasing the dream of being a national champion."


Two Ohio State free throws and a full-shot-clock possession by North Carolina went by without comment during all this.

Vitale has been shilling for college hoops since the first day anyone put a microphone in front of him, and I think I've heard similar rants from him on this subject in previous years.

But there's never been this kind of drumbeat criticism of the BCS or college football on ESPN, which after all still carries a lot of college football games, including an astounding 21 bowl games this year, plus the two ABC will carry, the non-BCS Capital One Bowl and the BCS Rose Bowl.

This is a good thing.


Hardly anybody other than the honchos of the six BCS conferences likes the BCS, but those honchos have a lot of power.

But I'm not sure anybody has as much power in sports as the Worldwide Leader. If the talking heads there have the green light to take potshots at college football for not having a tournament, that might increase the momentum for a tournament just a little bit.

Maybe when the NCAA powers that be get past their urgent worries over whether Boise State running back Ian Johnson might be illegally giving crocheted beanies to charity -- the cur! -- they'll start listening to this new drumbeat.


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Harsh words about rebounds [PERMALINK]

This column enjoys a good whizzing match, and it's managed to land on the periphery of one online that's nice and nasty. It involves several factions of the sabermetric community, basketball division, arguing about the rating system found in the book "The Wages of Wins" by economists David J. Berri, Martin B. Schmidt and Stacey L. Brook.


Malcolm Gladwell, who fawned over the book in a New Yorker review, has even jumped in. This column, though the target of some of the whizzing because of some pre-match commentary, is keeping dry on the sidelines.

Twice I chided the book, in an aside in August and again in a full column in September, for its position that, on a per-minute basis, Dennis Rodman was a more valuable player than Michael Jordan on the record-setting 1995-96 Bulls.

After my initial joke, a reader pointed out a blog entry in which author Berri, using a clarification by American Prospect writer Matthew Yglesias as a proxy, denied ever writing that "Rodman was 'better' than Michael Jordan."

I pointed out that, alas and alackaday for Berri, when you write something in a book it stays writ and that the statement that Rodman was more valuable on a per-minute basis than Jordan -- that is, a better player who just didn't play as many minutes -- was on Page 144.


I also thought it was helpful of me to reproduce the quote: "Per 48 minutes played, Rodman's productivity even eclipsed Jordan. Rodman's WP48 of .0.415 was four times the production offered by an average player in the NBA, and even surpassed the 0.386 WP48 posted by Jordan."

WP is Wins Produced, the "Wages of Wins" stat that measures NBA players' total contribution to a team.

The full column arguing against Rodman as a Hall of Fame-caliber player came not so much in response to "The Wages of Wins" but to negative reader reaction to a fairly offhand statement I'd made before that while Terrell Owens' odd behavior sometimes resembled that of Rodman, Owens is "a much better football player than Rodman was a basketball player."

I made my case, mentioning the overstatement of rebounds in "The Wages of Wins," and retired from the field. This was before all the real whizzing began.


Berri offered a rebuttal to my criticism on his blog earlier this month, then wrote some more on the subject, though not about my criticism, a few days later.

Since then: Whiz! Here's a good overview at the Sabermetric Research blog.

Here's True Hoop describing Berri's criticism of ESPN analyst John Hollinger's older rival metric, PER, plus Gladwell's blog entry siding with Berri and Hollinger's response.

The main thing they're all arguing about is whether "The Wages of Wins" overvalues rebounds.


They're still arguing. Here's Berri's response to Hollinger's response.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or actually back in July, here's a critique of "The Wages of Wins" methodology by UNC-Greensboro economist Dan Rosenbaum, who has studied the NBA and now consults for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He keeps getting mentioned in the current arguing, and he weighs in on the whizzing match several times in this thread.

Rosenbaum takes pains to point out that there are a lot of good ideas in "The Wages of Wins" and the authors' blog, but he argues that Wins Produced runs into trouble in the way it measures shot attempts.

It's all really fun -- maybe just to me -- because it's a bunch of really smart people arguing about a really tough question, how best to measure the individual contributions of basketball players, given that basketball is such an interactive game. Almost everything that happens is dependent on the actions or inactions of others. It lacks the clear one-on-one combat of the batter-pitcher relationship in baseball.


And by really smart people I'm of course including Berri and his coauthors, though I disagree with their conclusions on basketball and I find their tone a bit condescending.

I'm going to stay dry. I don't have the math chops to engage in a statistical argument with a bunch of economists. But my observations, the wisdom of the crowd, and the opinions of enough people who do have the math chops to debate a bunch of economists all make me pretty comfortable with my position that Dennis Rodman was not, on a per-minute or any other basis, better, more valuable or more productive than Michael Jordan, and that any metric that describes him thusly is flawed.

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NFL Week 13, Part 1 [PERMALINK]

The lonely pick of one game will be a regular feature of Thursday columns for the next four weeks. Winner in caps.

BALTIMORE (9-2) at Cincinnati (6-5): "I'm not convinced it'll help much." That's what I wrote when Ravens head coach Brian Billick took over as offensive coordinator. Since then, the Ravens are 5-0. I know the Bengals are flying after that 30-0 shellacking of Cleveland, but that was Cleveland.
Buster's pick: Baltimore (coin)

Previous column: London's Olympic boondoggle

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